The rest of the world could only watch in horror this week as members of the radical Islamist al-Shabaab militant group killed and wounded hundreds of people last weekend. The horrifying massacre brought forward ghosts past mass shootings and acts of terrorism, both of which Americans have had to witness in spades the last few decades. Almost every American has felt shock and dismay while watching some new horror take place in the halls of a school or the confines of a place of worship be played out on television. These people know something of what Kenyans are certainly feeling now, fear, uncertainty, and anger. Certainly Kenyans themselves are no strangers to terror, having experienced an al-Qaeda orchestrated bombing in 1998 and the bombing of an Israeli owned hotel in 2002, among several other smaller attacks. And this attack may be the beginning of what may be a long process for the eastern African nation as far as securing peace inside of its own borders. Kenya will have to decide what to do in the wake of the attacks, whether to intensify the fight against al-Shabaab or withdraw forces from Somalia. The terrorist organization has made it clear that it intends to continue its attacks against Kenyans. For now though, there will be grieving, in Kenya and around the world, for those who were killed.
And while it would seem that the attack itself couldn’t be farther from the Midwest, there is an element in this story that should be especially worrisome to residents of Minnesota. Since 2007, at least 22 young Somali men have gone to East Africa from Minnesota to fight for al-Shabaab. Though it is not yet clear whether any Somali-Minnesotans participated in this attack, the community has been bracing for a backlash if any were involved. The majority of Somalis who came to Minnesota have fled from violence, and community leaders have been quick to condemn the attack. But the fact is that some young Somali men decide to forsake the states to die in a civil war thousands of miles from the state where they spent much of their early lives. This could be attributed to several different factors. The Somali community is fairly new, being established in Minnesota around the mid-90’s. Many of those who came here had limited English skills and were unable to transfer skills that they had in their homeland to the U.S.A., forcing them into lower-paying manual labor jobs or unemployment. According to Professor Abdi Samatar of the University of Minnesota, some refugees begin to feel isolated in their new surroundings. This feeling of alienation, coupled with the financial hardships endemic among refugees, makes for fertile recruiting grounds for radical Islamist organizations like al-Shabaab to find new recruits.
While there may be nothing that Minnesotans can do directly to abate the civil war in Somalia, we can still play a part in helping to decrease the alienation of young Somali men in our state. Organizations like the African Development Center (ADC) of Minnesota work to empower African immigrants and their families to start businesses and become financially stable. Inner city schools must be re-invested in to make sure that young people of immigrant background get the adequate tools needed to succeed in their new environment. Professor Samatar notes that the majority of funds spent to prevent radical recruitment have gone to security and monitoring of suspected recruits and recruiters. Perhaps if we used more resources on treating the problem at its source, namely the poor conditions of Minnesota’s refugee population, we wouldn’t have to watch the terrible massacre in Somalia and wonder whether fellow Minnesotans were involved in its perpetration.